Question: "Why is our reward in heaven great if we are persecuted and reviled (Matthew 5:12)?"
Answer: The primary audience for Christ’s Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1—7:29) was the twelve disciples. Others came and listened, but the Lord’s principal intent was to teach His closest followers—the twelve men who were set apart for leadership in God’s kingdom (see Matthew 19:28; Revelation 21:14). These apostles would be the ones to experience the fiercest persecution. To address this concern, Jesus concluded His opening Beatitudes with this wonderful assurance: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11–12, ESV).
The disciples were about to undergo unprecedented persecution under the cruel Roman Empire. Indeed, throughout history, faithful followers of Christ have faced intense oppression and persecution (2 Timothy 3:12; Philippians 1:29). The Lord knew that His kingdom leaders and faithful servants would need to maintain an eternal perspective. The Beatitudes provide this hope—they assure us that, no matter how much suffering and hardship we endure for Christ’s sake, we can be confident that our reward in heaven will be great.
Honor, blessing, and recompense in heaven are not promised simply as payment for injustices suffered in this life but specifically for “those who are persecuted because of righteousness” (Matthew 5:10). God has a special prize set aside for believers who are insulted, mocked, punished, and treated unfairly because of their stand and testimony for Jesus Christ. These are Christians who eagerly practice kingdom righteousness and suffer for it.
Such kingdom servants are like the prophets of the Old Testament who “were jeered at, and their backs were cut open with whips. Others were chained in prisons. Some died by stoning, some were sawed in half, and others were killed with the sword. Some went about wearing skins of sheep and goats, destitute and oppressed and mistreated. They were too good for this world, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground” (Hebrews 11:32–38, NLT; cf. Hebrews 11:26; see also Acts 7:51–53; James 5:10). For all who suffer abuses similar to those of the prophets of old, Jesus promises indescribable rewards in heaven.
Jesus isn’t just encouraging His most loyal “movers and shakers” to endure persecution but to “rejoice and be glad” in it. Despite their temporal hardships, these servants possess the most distinguishing qualities of kingdom servants. They have the radical courage to let their “light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). They are brave enough to endure suffering at the hands of their King’s enemies and still rejoice (see Acts 5:41; Romans 5:3, 2 Corinthians 12:10; Hebrews 10:34; James 1:2; 1 Peter 4:13). In fact, they are willing to lose everything, even their very lives, to gain the kingdom of heaven (Revelation 12:11).
The apostle Paul’s lifestyle exemplified that of a kingdom servant. He considered everything of value in this temporal life as worthless compared to the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:7–11).
As Christians, we should expect the world to hate us (Mark 13:13; 1 John 3:12). But if we live as devoted kingdom servants, partaking in Christ’s suffering because of our identification with Jesus, our reward in heaven is great: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Corinthians 4:17). The apostle Peter affirmed, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12–13). Our present suffering is not even worth comparing with the glories of heaven (Romans 8:18).
The Bible is abundantly clear that God rewards our faithfulness to Him (Genesis 15:1; Ruth 2:12; Proverbs 13:13; Psalm 18:20; Luke 6:35; Colossians 3:24). Jesus Himself promises the “victor’s crown” for those who suffer persecution (Revelation 2:10). Our reward in heaven is great when our desire to live righteously is intense and determined—when our testimony for Christ shines so brightly that the enemies of God’s kingdom are driven to extinguish its brilliance.